Florida's "water war" with Georgia is not over. The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that more legal briefs will be filed in the case, including allowing Florida to contest a special master's report that recommended a ruling in Georgia's favor. If the full amount of time is taken to file the briefs, it could extend a decision by the nation's highest court into late June.
The decision, which was reached by the justices in a closed-door conference on Friday and announced Monday, could offer legal hope for Florida officials, who were dismayed by the special master's finding last month that that Florida should be denied relief in its claim that Georgia's over-consumption of water was damaging the ecology and economy of Apalachicola Bay in Franklin County.
The fundamental obstacle for Florida remains Special Master Ralph Lancaster's finding that there could be no settlement between Florida and Georgia without the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was not a party to the lawsuit but controls water flow in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system through a series of dams and reservoirs. That system runs from North Georgia south to Apalachicola Bay. But Florida's legal team could use the briefs to amplify Lancaster's other findings, including the statement that "there is little question that Florida has suffered harm from decreased flows in the (Apalachicola) River." He also rejected Georgia's claim that Florida's alleged mismanagement of the oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay had led to the industry's decline, and he called the expansion of agricultural use of water in Georgia "largely unrestrained."
Under the Supreme Court's schedule, Florida and other parties will have 45 days to file exceptions to the special master's report. Replies to those briefs must be filed in 30 days, with final briefs filed within 30 days of that. Florida filed the lawsuit against Georgia in 2013.